Lack of foreign students blamed for low ranks for Indian Universities

The country’s top decision-makers in education have blamed the poor show of Indian universities on the global rankings on a lack of “cultural diversity” on campuses, and called for the presence of more foreign researchers and academics at Indian institutions.

Inviting more foreign students and researchers to Indian campuses is the only way Indian universities can improve their global rankings, said Professor Ramgopal Rao, Director of Indian Institute of Technology-Delhi (IIT-D). The academic head of IIT Delhi was delivering his remarks at the launch of a scholarship portal for PhD candidates belonging to the member countries of Association of South-East Asian Countries (ASEAN) earlier this week.

We are 20 years too late in initiating such changes to our faculty and researcher demographic, said Professor Rao.

“This can be a game-changer for us. This shouldn’t be a one-time thing.”

The central government has come under fire over its higher education policy in recent weeks after no Indian university figured in the top 300 in Times Higher Education University Rankings.

Agreeing that a lack of cultural diversity cost India a place on the table with other top global universities, Union HRD Secretary R Subrahmanyam, also present at the event, said inviting foreign academics to India is core to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s flagship Study in India scheme.

“We should be able to interact with faculty from all around the world on a much greater level,” the country’s top education bureaucrat said, flanked by Union External Affairs’ Minister Dr S Jaishankar, Union Human Resources Development (HRD) Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank, Thailand’s Ambassador Chutintorn Gongsakdi and Vijay Thakur Singh, Secretary (East) at the MEA.

The 1,000 fully-funded fellowships to candidates from the 10 Southeast Asian countries are part of Narendra Modi government’s Act East Policy aimed at stregthening the historical ties between India and ASEAN countries.

Laying out the contours of the scheme, Subrahmanyam informed mediapersons that the scholarships, which will cover academic and living costs for five years, will be disbursed in three lots.

“Two hundred and fifty scholarships will be handed out in the first phase, followed by another 300 in the second and 450 in the final phase,” he said.

“The initiative would cost the government Rs 300 crore,” revealed the bureaucrat, noting that professors from ASEAN countries had already been visiting Indian universities.

During his remarks, Union External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar noted that the scholarship scheme was the “largest capacity-building program” within the larger India-ASEAN partnership.

“Both our civilisations have always attached the highest priority to education. It is only natural that knowledge remains the driving force in our relations,” he stated.

Education minister Ramesh Pokhriyal said that the decision would strengthen the 3C vision of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which involved enhancing cultural, commercial and connectivity ties between India and its Southeast Asian neighbours.

Under fire for not being able to make it to the world’s top 300 universities despite attracting India’s sharpest scientific talent, IIT-Delhi sought an audience with the London-based university ratings agency to seek an explanation about their methodology.

In a candid Facebook post last week, the IIT-Delhi professor noted that Indian universities had scored close to zero points in three ranking parameters – international students, international faculty and faculty-to-student ratio.

“We don’t score well on perception-based parameters on a global scale; again, because of the inward-looking nature of our institutions and cultural issues,” he had noted in the post. “This is also changing now.”